Labor Department review prisoner reentry efforts

The U.S. Department of Labor held a summit recently in Washington D.C. on reentry and employment of formerly incarcerated individuals. The summit featured three panel discussions, which included the benefits of hiring ex-offenders, partnerships and sustainability and addressing distinct populations in the criminal justice system. Panelists consisted of speakers from federal and local government agencies, nonprofit organizations and businesses. The panels were followed by a best-practices discussion, during which attendees shared ways to effectively transition ex-offenders back into the community and encourage employers to hire them.

In the first discussion, business owners Lamont Carey and Michael Pearson discussed the benefits of hiring people who were formerly incarcerated. Pearson spoke from his own experience as an ex-offender who was able to successfully transition back into the community. Because of their experience with regimented and demanding prison life, Carey and Pearson asserted that ex-offenders tend to be loyal employees and have a strong work ethic. Pearson “encouraged attendees to reach out to their local chambers of commerce about offering training to businesses on how to integrate people who were formerly incarcerated into their workforce.”

In the partnerships and sustainability discussion, panelists addressed questions about recruiting program participants. In addition to establishing contact and engaging people prior to their release, program administrators should build relationships with probation and parole officers as part of their recruitment efforts.

Some panelists also recommended staffing services to help ensure program sustainability. Safer Foundations, a for-profit staffing service based in Chicago, has offered ex-offenders assistance to overcome barriers to employment. BI Incorporated has also worked closely with offenders in and around Chicago. For a decade, BI has operated intensive treatment and training centers for parolees called Spotlight Reentry Centers.

During the third discussion, focused on distinct populations, Teny Gross of the Providence, Rhode Island-based Institute for Study and Practice on Nonviolence, asserted that “People often engage in criminal behavior as a response to an adverse environment.” Native American populations, for example, have long dealt with marginalization, geographical isolation and poverty.

In the best-practices discussion following the panel, attendees discussed “the need for program administrators to network in the community on behalf of the people they serve.” They also emphasized the importance of life skills classes and restorative justice programs.